Cycle 3

Cycle 3: Working with a Grade Level Team of Teachers and Students

CYCLE THREE PLAN

For the next cycle in this project, I desired to tap into a resource I had yet to directly  involve—the students. When developing cycle three, I did not foresee any significant ways to adjust cycle two so I decided to approach my method of supporting teachers in a different manner than offering open lab times. For cycle three, I decided to examine how working more closely with a grade level team of teachers and their students could support technology use among them. My actions involved increasing communication with the grade level teachers and sharing web resources with teachers and students. In this cycle, I hoped to better meet the needs of the grade level teachers and students.

Background Information

The upper elementary grade level team consists of three teachers each with a class of approximately thirty students. Each class comes to the technology lab for instruction for an hour each week. Students and teachers in this grade level use technology on a regular basis. Teachers are quite tech savvy and require students to create and print documents as well as use the Internet for research assignments. Students often print pictures from the web to include in posters and booklets they create for class assignments. Students use technology in their classrooms and at home to complete these tasks. Typically these teachers and I connect sporadically with each other through email or chance encounters around the school campus. Occasionally, we discuss what I am covering with students in technology class and sometimes the teachers ask me to cover specific topics during class time.

CYCLE 3 GUIDING RESEARCH QUESTIONS

My overall question for this cycle: 

How will working more closely with students and teachers influence the implementation and use of technology among students and teachers? 

CYCLE Three Specific Questions

  • How will communicating with classroom teachers more often affect what is done in technology class and in the grade level teachers’ classrooms?
  • How will introducing and sharing a variety of websites affect their use by students and teachers?

CYCLE THREE PLAN IMPLEMENTATION

In this cycle, I kept in closer contact with a grade level team of teachers than I typically do with teachers at my work site. I communicated regularly with teachers in this team through email and face-to-face conversations about what students were working on in my technology class. I held one lunch meeting and checked in with at least one of the teachers on each activity students worked on in technology class.

Throughout the spring, students worked on several activities in technology class. These activities included working on a report, blogging, learning about and exploring Khan Academy (a website with video tutorials about math www.khanacademy.org), participating in a brochure contest, and an optional raffle contest. In the first week that I communicated with teachers, two of them asked me to review a research report that the students were working on. The third teacher requested that I review student blogging and give the students time to contribute to a discussion blog she had created.

The next project involved the Khan Academy, a website with thousands of narrated tutorial videos on math, science, and other subjects. One of the teachers was interested in utilizing this web resource with her class and asked that I familiarize her class with it. Upon checking in with the other grade level teachers, they were also interested in having their students use this website. The teachers’ interest excited me and I was interested to see what students would think of the site. The first time I introduced Khan Academy to students was during the last part of a class period. I simply asked students to go to the website to familiarize themselves with it. As students began to check out the videos, I repeatedly observed them watching what seemed to be randomly selected tutorials. The video tutorials on the site cover a wide range of academic levels ranging from upper elementary level to the college/university level. While the tutorials are very clear and easy to understand, many students were watching videos that were fairly complex and above their ability level. I approached students who were doing this and suggested they find a tutorial that was more appropriate for their ability. This observation influenced how I approached Khan Academy in the next two weeks with students.

In our next few classes, students examined Khan Academy. I directed students to look the videos on the site with an analytical eye and to look for the relevant resources on the website. In each class, students and I listed topics that were being covered in specific subject areas in their regular classes. Next, the students were to seek out tutorials on Khan Academy that aligned with those topics. When students found a relevant tutorial that they liked, they submitted the link with a description to me via an online survey. Next, with the help of a few students, we built pages for our school’s website that featured links to these videos, thus creating a mini library of relevant Khan Academy videos to make Khan Academy more accessible to students. During class, students also tested out their knowledge by completing online practice problems that accompany many of the math tutorials.

After students gained an understanding of Khan Academy, they began working on the Bullying Academy, an online program that teaches students strategies to better handle bullying. This activity satisfied the online safety component I cover each year. Along with covering real life bullying situations, it also explores online bullying situations. One of the teachers was excited about this activity because she had been observing instances of bullying with her students and thought this would be beneficial for all grade level students.

In the next project, teachers wanted the students to create a brochure to be distributed to guests at our school’s 60th Birthday Party. The teachers requested my assistance and due to the significance of this project, I requested that we meet. In the lunchtime meeting we discussed details of the brochure contest along with what I had been doing in technology class with the students. I shared the Khan Academy webpage that I built with some student support. We discussed this a bit and began talking about flipping the classroom in math (when teachers assign video tutorials for homework, then have students work out problems during class time). The teachers were interested in this idea. They then mentioned that soon they would be requiring students to create a PowerPoint presentation. We discussed other alternatives such as using Keynote (Apple’s Presentation software) and Prezi (an online presentation software). I shared how these options could work with our available technology and pointed out limitations that existed. Teachers were particularly interested in the online option, which I said I would investigate for them.

For the last month of class while students worked on the brochure project, I also started a weekly raffle with the goal of helping students to share helpful online resources. While searching for Khan Academy tutorials, I conversed with a handful of students who reported using Khan Academy to help them with homework or learn more about something they were studying in class. This optional weekly raffle asked students to share any web resource that taught them something, from dividing fractions to learning a new dance. During class time students filled out paper entry forms for the raffle by sharing the website they used and explaining what they learned from it. At the end of technology class, a student drew an entry from a hat. The students chosen had their photograph and website featured on a webpage on our school website, and also won a small prize. The winners from each class were then entered into a final drawing for a five-dollar gift card. I also included the websites that others students shared at the bottom of this webpage in a list format.

Students shared a variety of solid web resources for the raffle. I introduced several of these websites to students during class and also used a couple in lesson plans with other grade level classes. There are some sites that I plan to examine more closely in order to use them in a future lesson or class activity.

Student Feedback

Students were surveyed in an anonymous online survey in order to discover their thoughts about the raffle and other activities related to this cycle. 73 out of the 92 grade level students responded to the survey. Of these 73 respondents, 42 reported participating in the optional raffle (a 58% participation rate), while 31 reported they did not participate.

Those who did not participate reported a variety of reasons for this. About half, 16 of the 31 students, said they were not interested in the raffle and 12 stated they did not have a website to suggest. One shared that he or she did not hear about the raffle, one did not want to enter the raffle, and one other student reported that he or she forgot to enter.

In order to understand what students thought about the raffle activity, I asked how they would describe it given the descriptor choices of awesome, so-so, and lame. 18 out of 73 students described the raffle as awesome. 14 out of 73 students rated it as so-so.  41 out of 73 students rated it as so-so.  This tells me that student interest existed, but that this activity was not extremely engaging or exciting for most students.

I also inquired if students looked at the Student Recommended Websites Page, which is where websites submitted in the raffle were shared. One third of students (24 students) looked at this page on their own while two thirds did not. Of the 24 students who looked at the page, 17 of them explored a link on the page. This tells me that just 23% of all fifth grade students viewed any of the links on the Student Recommended Websites Page.

In February, at the beginning of cycle three, I conducted an anonymous online survey to learn how often students use the Internet for homework. I also asked students the same question in June, at the close of cycle three. In February 94 out of 94, 100% of students responded. In June, only 73 out of 92 students responded or about 79% of students. Throughout the school year, the number of students fluctuated due to students leaving the school. The participation rate varied due to technology class attendance.

Students reported how many times they used the Internet for homework at the beginning and end of cycle three. The amount of students who reported not using the Internet or using it once per week did not change significantly. The most significant change can be seen in students who used the Internet 6 times per week, which saw an increase of 15%.  Other increases were seen in the percentage of students who used the Internet two and three times a week. A smaller increase was seen in the percentage of students who use the Internet five times per week. Overall, this data shows that students began using the Internet more times per week for their homework. This suggests that the activities in cycle three may have contributed to this increase.

Teacher Feedback

In June, all of the three teachers from the grade level team completed a survey to express their perspective at the end of this cycle. Teachers were asked how often their students typically use the Internet to complete homework. Responses were 2, 3, and 4 times per week. Teachers explained students used the Internet for work including research for projects, blogging, and online programs.  One teacher reported, “…and after reading the fifth grade page of sites… they’ve used the Internet for Khan Academy, YouTube, and lots of other things.” This same teacher said she did not use Khan Academy in class nor assign it for homework. However, it seems that student use is motivating her because she wrote, “My plan is to research and get to know the Khan Academy BETTER this summer. I will implement usage in the fall.” Of the two other teachers, one reported using Khan Academy with students, while the other did not.

Two of the teachers investigated the Student Recommended Website page on their own and both of these teachers also viewed specific websites listed on the webpage. All teachers agreed the lunch meeting was helpful. They mentioned they liked being together and had a chance to share information, which helped keep everyone on the same page. One teacher noted this meeting was necessary for the success of the brochure contest, which was a technology class activity students completed during this cycle.

I asked teachers about the model of support I should provide in the future. One teacher reported being happy with what went on in cycle three. Another teacher said she was unsure, but wanted to watch students’ needs and technology changes to see what kind of support would be needed in the next academic year. Another teacher expressed she would like help with learning about iPads, tools she will have in her classroom next year. This teacher also expressed that continuing to collaborate would be beneficial.

Reflection

Overall, this cycle pointed to how increasing collaboration and communication can improve idea sharing among teachers and students. The activities conducted in this cycle helped to share knowledge between teachers, students, and myself. I found that by valuing student and teacher ideas—in working with teachers to find out their desires and by asking students for their feedback—some solid knowledge sharing occurred. I learned that putting effort into the communication process helped lead to new, exciting possibilities.

My main goal for the Khan Academy project was to make this web resource more accessible for students and teachers, which I believe we achieved. Students repeatedly mentioned this website in the raffle contest.  I also spoke casually to students throughout the spring who shared they liked learning from this website and used it to assist with homework. As we discussed Khan Academy in the grade level team meeting, I introduced the concept of flipping the classroom, which was fairly new to these teachers. Flipping the classroom involves restructuring instructional time, so that traditional homework becomes class work and lectures are watched for homework. The teachers were open to learn more about this idea. I was excited that one teacher who did not use Khan Academy this spring, intends to look into it over the summer, after seeing students using it. Khan Academy is not the only site that can be used to flip the classroom and down the road I would like to introduce the idea of teachers, or even students, creating their own screencasts or videos to use for instruction.

In working with students, I have informally observed that many view the Internet as a great source of entertainment, but often overlook its potential for learning. In our school, teachers do not use sites like YouTube often and many are blocked for student use. This indicates that students usually access these types of sites at home where their main purpose is likely entertainment. Throughout this cycle, I was excited to notice some students starting to view the Internet as a learning tool. While students analyzed Khan Academy, we had several class discussions about how using a site like Khan Academy could actually help them with homework. We talked about how they did not need a computer to watch one of these videos—a tablet or smart phone would work too. One student inquired about how to explain to his parents that he needs a cell phone to do his homework. I was glad this activity helped to open the student’s eyes to new possibilities. This was also evident in the raffle where many students who participated reported using videos on YouTube, Khan Academy and more to learn how to do things like create a drawing or PowerPoint presentation, solve a math problem, or learn a new dance. This tells me students are beginning to see how online tools can help them take charge of their own learning.

One surprising benefit of meeting and communicating more often with teachers was that we started looking to the future, not just the present. Teachers were interested when I shared our work in creating a mini Khan Academy library online. In addition to suggesting another grade level use Khan Academy, they also wanted students to use the log in feature so students could track the videos they watched. There was also an interest in getting the students email accounts and using the web-based online presentation software program, Prezi. Excited about these new ideas, I investigated creating online accounts for students. I learned of legal issues regarding students under the age of 13 using certain web tools. This affects our students, so I communicated these concerns to the grade level team and we decided we would work with the administration to find a way to implement these online accounts in the fall. Creating accounts for any or all of these tools would allow more possibilities for both students and teachers. I was very pleased to see the teachers’ interest in using these web tools, as these are tools that I have also wanted to use with students. Having the teachers in the same arena with me is the support I have been seeking. This face-to-face meeting opened more doors than I anticipated. The meeting gave us a venue in which to discuss and share thoughts and desires. It helped us all to get on the same page and develop a vision for the future. I do not think any of us were opposed to sharing before; we just never had the forum in which to do it.

In addition to this grade level team of teachers, there are five other grade level teams in my school. Meeting with other teams could support communication and idea sharing between them and me. Next year, I would like to schedule at least one meeting with grade level teams to check in and find out more about teachers’ thoughts on how we can work together to better meet the diverse needs of students and teachers in respect to technology. For this cycle, I chose the specific grade level team of teachers to work with because of their openness to technology. In working with other grade levels, there will be different needs and abilities among teachers and students. These may present challenges, but I believe increased communication about technology with grade level teachers, as in this case, can lead to looking to new possibilities—a very valuable action.

Another action in this cycle, the raffle, built up some excitement among students and was a simple way to quickly gather web resources from students. I would like to use the idea of a raffle again, to share web resources and maybe even iPad applications. However, making adjustments to the structure could make it more engaging. I have not done much student sharing outside of this cycle and this is something I would like to continue to do in my workplace with other grade levels.

Instead of only posting the websites and a brief description of it online, I could ask students to demonstrate the website for the class. Having students create a screencasts about the website, which could be shared online, would be another way to better utilize and share student knowledge. Asking students to review a website, rather than just tell what they learned from it, would challenge their thinking and give the rest of us an improved understanding of a website. Using one or combining these models could result in a more rewarding learning activity for students.

My actions of sharing the Student Recommended Websites Page, created with the raffle results, could have been improved. I created a website so that the information was accessible to others outside of the grade level. I shared this website weekly with grade level students, but only briefly during class. I did not share detailed information about specific sites, thus I did not highlight the potential value of these sites. To promote the sites listed on the webpage in the future, I would like to create activities for students around some of the sites to build awareness and interest by having them experience them first hand. I shared Student Recommended Websites Page with the grade level teachers briefly over email, but again, did not share any specific information. Giving some details about the site might have sparked their interest. Another way I could have shared the Student Recommended Websites Page could have been putting a message with a link in the weekly mass email communication sent to parents and teachers. Because this information is on a webpage, it lends itself easily to using it next school year and sharing with others.

I did not predict that I would personally benefit from this raffle activity. Many of the sources that students shared were new to me or were sites that I was only aware of, but had not used. The students helped me to learn more about their interests and also how the sites they recommended could be used for learning. Their suggestions sparked my interest. In the next school year, I plan to use sites listed on this webpage with students and teachers. I have already used a few of the websites in other grade level classes and plan to explore more of the sites in order implement them into future lesson plans and activities. This raffle activity helped me to keep in touch with student interest. The websites they have shared have increased my knowledge, and I can share this new knowledge with students and teachers at our school. Overall, I found that the raffle activity was an easy and productive way to tap into student knowledge to find web resources.

As the technology teacher and coordinator at my school site, I am seen as the liaison between the teachers and the world of technology. Teachers often have unrealistic expectations of my knowledge and will ask me any and all questions related to technology. When I do not know the answers, I look to resources that I think will have the information. As technology continuously changes, it can be challenging work to keep abreast of new technologies. In this cycle, I was pushed to stay current and learn more about Khan Academy and flipping the classroom because that is what teachers were interested in. Students shared websites that I found to be useful in other grade levels. Both of these actions helped me keep me up to date in my practice so that I can share current information with students and teachers.


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